Fraserburgh Lifeboat Loss 1970



21 JANUARY 1970

The Fraserburgh lifeboat, Duchess of Kent, was a good sea boat, but incapable of withstanding the conditions she met on Wednesday January 21, when she went to the rescue of the Danish fishing boat Opal, about 35 miles off Fraserburgh. Launched at 7.43 a.m., after Wick radio relayed a Mayday signal from the fishing boat, the crew faced a 3½-hour struggle to reach Opal in tumultuous seas, the wind increasing all the time, then gale force 8 to severe gale 9.

Crew from Fraserburgh’s lifeboat in 1970, including some of those lost in the disaster.
From left to right: Captain John Carter (LOM or Hon Sec as it was known then),
James Noble, Frederick Kirkness, John Buchan, Clive Rothery,
William Hadden, John Stephen (Coxswain).
Photo: RNLI Fraserburgh
[Grateful thanks to them for the use of this unique image]

Minutes after reaching the stricken vessel, the lifeboat was hit by a huge wave more than 30ft high, lifting the boat into the air, and cartwheeling it bow over stern, resulting in the loss of five of its six crew.

The bodies of four of the crew were found trapped inside the hull of the lifeboat when she was righted three hours later by a Russian cargo boat. The fifth man was Fred Kirkness, whose body was never found. Sole survivor John (known as ‘Jackson’) Buchan, who was acting as lookout on the deck when the wave struck, was thrown clear. He found himself on the surface, hauling himself on to the keel of the upturned lifeboat until he was rescued by a Russian lugger.

The tragedy left five widows and 15 youngsters without their fathers. The dead were coxswain John Crawford Stephen, the town’s assistant harbourmaster; Fred Kirkness, the lifeboat’s engineer; William Hadden, a Customs and Excise officer; fishworker James Buchan, and toolworker James Runcieman Slessor Buchan.

Click > here < to access the Board of Trade inquiry report into the loss of the lifeboat…

…and > here < for details of the recent RNLI Fraserburgh commemoration ceremony.

Frederick Alexander Kirkness was a Rousay man. Born in 1914, he was the son of Mark Mackay Kirkness, Quoyostray, and Martha (Mattie) Wards of Longhope, a teacher at Wasbister school. On Tuesday April 9th 1946, in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Fred married Maisie Robina Mainland of Westness Farm. They had a son, Colin, who became a Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Glasgow.

Fred Kirkness playing pipes at the head of a wedding procession at
Nears, Rousay. July 19th 1956.
[Courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]
Fred with his wife Maisie and son Colin.
[Courtesy of the Rhoda Groundwater family collection].

Steel Rousay Diary 1952

Ernest & Elenora Steel’s Rousay Diary ~ 1952

The diary was written by Ernest Steel in 1952 and is an account of his holiday in Orkney with his wife Elenora, and within the text are some photos taken at the time. Ernest and Elenora fell in love with Orkney and in the early 1960s they bought a croft on Rousay called ‘Langstane’. They would come up regularly to their croft and would spend many months enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the islands, reading, writing, gardening, hiking, cycling and enjoying the company of their local friends. Following the diary text below there are many photos of the island and some of its inhabitants, showing Ernest’s clever camera skills in the early days of Kodachrome colour film.

Elenora left all her papers and photos to her granddaughter,
who has transcribed the diary. ©

Elenora and Ernest on top of Blotchnie Fiold, Rousay’s highest hill


Thursday, June 19th

Risborough depart 3.48pm. The Stationmaster joined us as far as Saunderton.

Depart King’s X 7pm. Miss Watts joined us as far as Aberdeen. She gave us a colourful account of life in Persia as a nurse. Observed an early morning misty crossing of the Forth Bridge. Arrived Aberdeen 7.15am (Friday).

Friday, June 20th

At Aberdeen. Breakfast at Aberdeen Hotel. Observed chairs in lounge made by P.K. of High Wycombe. Visit Quay – and antique shop on the way – to find S.S “St Magnus”. We meet Mr Grant the Purser at the Shipping Co’s office at the quayside & take film of him and Elenora. Collect luggage and discover loss. The Shipping Co quite helpful. Await recovery of lost bag. Is it still at King’s X? (Ernest visits Torry Research Station).

We board “St Magnus” and sail at 4.30pm. Elenora is invited to inspect engine room. We … explore the shaft tunnel. (Triple Expansion Engines. ¾ speed at 74 r.p.m.). No hurry to get to Kirkwall due to tide. Later we are fixed up with 1st Class Berths. Ernest in cabin on starboard and Elenora with young woman of Kirkwall. Smooth North Sea crossing. Interesting party at our table for dinner.

Later adjourn to bar 10.15pm. Chatty steward. And so to bed. We also chatted with interesting lady on deck. Watched group of N Sea trawlers at their fishing grounds. Scotland on the port side. Destroyer (?) passed us on the port side.

Saturday June 21st

The silent engine awakened Ernest at 6.15am. View through porthole: a large wooden stanchion of Kirkwall Quay. At 6.30am Ernest lands on quay and enquires of the S.S. Earl Sigurd and its destination. Sails to Rousay Island, our destination, on Monday only. Breakfast on board St Magnus. Later telephone Mr Gibson, Postmaster of Rousay. Informed by him that James Craigie had left the island for Kirkwall and should now be there. (Small motor boat observed entering the harbour at that moment). We meet J Craigie and George Sutherland, co-owners of the boat. We also meet Mr Vaughan, a visitor to Kirkwall. It’s arranged that we sail with C & S at 4.30pm for Rousay. Meanwhile we explore Kirkwall (lunch at Kirkwall Hotel) and visit Bishop’s Palace. After shopping, return to Harbour and M.V “Fulmar”. Other passengers to Rousay Mrs Perry ….., leave Kirkwall 4.45pm.

James Craigie points out places of interest, the location of other islands en voyage. Weather fine, sea smooth. Take pictures. The whisky bottle is passed round. We pass Gairsay on our starboard. Owned by two ladies (mother & daughter) from Hastings. Electricity installed from the Mainland at great cost. No telephone on the island. Elenora takes the helm.

Arrival at Rousay (Trumland Pier). Our baggage conveyed to “Wychwood”, our abode, by tractor. Mr Cormack driving. [Wychwood was situated between Viera View and Daisy Cottage, a wooden house originally built as accommodation for the island’s nurse. John Cormack (1905-1975) was a blacksmith at the Brinian. In 1937 he married Alice (Girlie) Logie (1906-1985)]

Greeted by Mrs Cormack at door. Tea awaits us. We settle in. There is a fine view of Wyre opposite our window and that Mainland – also other islands.

Ernest’s photo of the road up from the pier – as it was in 1952.

Sunday June 22nd

A quiet day. A short morning walk. We do likewise in the afternoon but get wet in heavy shower. Later heavy rain. Lunch with the Cormacks. Elenora paints.

Note: There is almost 24 hours daylight. No darkness to speak of!

Monday June 23rd

Up at 6am. A fine morning. We observe the “Earl Sigurd” in the Sound opposite. Later “Earl Sigurd” calls at Rousay Pier. We collect bicycles but not before spending interesting two hours on board and down in engine room. Triple Expansion engine. Elenora starts up engines under supervision of engineer – an elderly gentleman (68). More tales of the sea. Cargo unloaded and loaded including cattle.

P.M. we tour the island by road (14 miles). Road fair and is classified B9064. Our farthest point north (59°11’N). At the top of Kierfea Hill at 400ft contour a magnificent panorama of the islands is spread out before us. Westerly wind at almost gale force confronts us, otherwise fine. Tea and sandwiches at a bleak point near the Quandales. The wind blows us home alongside Eynhallow Sound. We have our first view of Mid Howe Broch (Iron Age settlement).

Tuesday June 24th

Rise about 10am! Weather fine. After lunch we cycle to Mid Howe Broch and explore ancient works. We take a field path by Westness farm, owned by the bros. and sisters Mainland. Easterly wind and rain confront us on the way home. Dinner with Mrs Cormack at 6.30pm. Evening at home.

Ernest looks out over Eynhallow Sound from the rocks below Midhowe Broch.

Wednesday June 25th

Dull and misty. AM repair to Craigie’s boat house by the pier. Arrange for afternoon sail at 1.30pm.

At 1.30 leave Rousay Pier and set course round the island of Wyre. Perfectly smooth sea but sea mist. Pass numerous seals and their young. Keep in shore S of Wyre. Set course for Egilsay our destination. Land at Egilsay pier. This pier is built in the form of an L-shaped quay which is to be concreted over and widened by the C Council at a cost of £5000. Mr Cormack is employed on Egilsay for this work quarrying. We call at cottage for key to St Magnus Church (Ruin). The building is maintained by M.O.W. Round Tower. Pictures taken. Inspect church. Young man (Jim) scything churchyard. We approach “main road” and pass along it for ½ mile, passing the island school en route to the St Magnus Monument (Dedicated by the rector of St Magnus by London Bridge in 1937). Said to be the site St Magnus was murdered in 1116.

Return to pier. Elenora stops at cottage close to church and meets elderly natives. She is shown the cow byre! James gives us a good account of the history of the island. The island is known for its excellent snipe shooting. After having tea on board M.V. “Fulmar” it is observed that the wind has risen and the sea slightly choppy. We sail for Rousay opposite and keep close to shore. Arrive at Rousay Pier 5.30. “Fulmar” anchored off shore. Elenora offers to row us all in dingy to the pier. A very pleasant afternoon’s voyage. Dinner at 6.30pm.

Thursday June 26th

Up at about 8.30am. Not quite sure as to the sort of day it might be. After some delays we cycle to Mansemass Hill road and leave bikes on roadside. Descend hill across fields to North Howe site. Drizzle! Continual walk along cliff tops to Scabra Head and Sinians of Cutclaws. Fine cliff scenery. Photograph and sketches. Continue wanderings. Snack in drizzle. Later heavy shower. Return to bicycles across the Quandale (Quandale 1595). By this time (5.30) brilliant sunshine and magnificent view of the Orkneys.

Friday June 27th

Not a good day.

S.W. wind and rain all day with intervals when we had wind only. Not cold. Stayed at home or strolled down to pier and boat house. James Craigie painting boat. Elenora decides to paint interior of boat house. She visit’s J.C.’s mother this evening. Dinner at Mrs C’s. Mr C returns from Isle of Egilsay.

Note: Our voyage by the M.V Fulmar cancelled owing to bad weather. Sea rough and visibility poor. We were to have gone to Kirkwall. E telephones Aberdeen 3/9d!

Later we cycle to Woo Bank close to Point of Breck. On our return we call at the almost completed but abandoned house “Mid Garth”. The house is well built but is in decay. Marble fireplaces – overmantles in all rooms. Stain and etched glazing to doors and windows. Sole occupants a gull and dead cat. “The Star” newspaper dated July 22nd 1922. Staircase, mouldings etc. of first class workmanship.

Home about midnight. Fine “evening” calm. The hills on the mainland can be picked out on their colours. To bed with no artificial lighting.

Saturday June 28th

Up about 10am. Wind, Sea rough, High clouds. Mild. We miss J.C and his boat for Kirkwall. Warmer. We take boat for the Isle of Wyre, across the sound of the same name. We travel with family – mother, two young daughters and the two redhead boys. Boatman’s name is Flaws, a native of Wyre.

The island has only recently been served with a telephone kiosk (visible from Wychwood). Later all eight farmsteads will be supplied with telephones.

Communication with the mainland and Kirkwall is bad. Landing facilities non-existent. Inhabitants have to take ferry to Rousay, thence by hired car (3 miles) to Hullion. Ferry to Evie and bus to Kirkwall. The island has its own “village” hall complete with electric light.

We visit ruined chapel (M.O.W.) after chatting with man at Hallbreck farm who was collecting debris of large chicken house destroyed by winter storm. Above ruined chapel is a mound on which stands Castle Cobbie Row or Cubbie Roo (1150 AD). We take photographs. Lovely warm, sunny afternoon.

On our return to the “landing stage” (there are no roads on the island) we pick up Mr Flaws. He rows out to motor vessel and returns to pick Elenora and I up. Choppy crossing to Rousay.

Elenora swims in harbour shelter. Later we cycle to Westside (near Brochs). Westness farmer exercising sheep dogs. On our return we examine Blackhammer Cairn (Stone Age burial place protected by M.O.W.). Cairn locked up. Who has the key?

Supper. Fine evening. Ever changing cloud effects with setting sun at 10.30pm. Later we repair to pier at moment of arrival of “The Fulmar” at 11pm from Kirkwall. We enquire as to the possibility of a voyage to the Island of Sanday. J.C. consults George Sutherland. The latter gentleman is definitely against the project. Nevertheless a prolonged discussion ensues on the subject of distance, tides, winds and Stronsay Firth. J.C.’s mother and Harry Logie join in the argument, the finer points of which are lost upon us. We are advised to try and get Nicholson to take us. About midnight we escape to bed.

Sunday June 29th

A fine, bright, sunny morning. Warm. After breakfast we cycle to Home Farm, park cycles in field and commence the climb to the top of Blotchnie Fiold (821 feet above S.L.). The highest point of Rousay. Not a high hill but even so not easy. Most of the way, west of Trumland House is bog and hard going until we reach the 600-700 ft. levels where there is thick heather. Higher up bogs are worse. Here considerable peat has been dug making the going worse. After an hour’s climb we reach the summit and more bog. Here we obtain a magnificent view of the Orkneys spread out before us with the mountain of Hoy to the south. We stay long enough to take photos and then make a direct descent regardless of bog. Call at Mrs Perry’s bungalow on the way down for keys to Taiverso (Neolithic burial ground (M.O.W.). We shall have to call at Trumland House for it.

After lunch I inspect Mr Cormack’s water supply system. He has installed a Stuart-Turner Pumping Set (Petrol) in a hut on the seashore. Here he bored 23 feet below sea level for fresh water which is pumped 120 yds. up to the house cistern, 25 ft. above sea level. A pipeline serves a field down the road and later Mr Cormack intends to serve Wychwood with a water supply to the lavatory.

Wychwood has its own rainwater supply.

This evening we call at pier (6pm) and wait for George to turn up. We sail from Rousay Pier and follow coast as far as Westness Farm. At this point we make for Eynhallow Isle and follow its coast as far as Sheep Skerry. Here the waters of the sound are very shallow. We turn south and make for the mainland coast and follow it as far as Taing of Midgarth. The course is changed hereabouts for the coast of Wyre. Being ebb tide we steer between the Skerries and the Taing.

Return to Rousay Pier. A pleasant evening. Light breeze.

Monday June 30th

We woke up to a wind almost gale force from the west, otherwise mild. Chores and odd jobs this morning. Visit local store and chat to Mr Marwick. After lunch we decide to explore cairns. Telephone Mr Hourie (Westness 2), keeper of the ancient monuments of Rousay. Ernest calls upon Dr Carlisle (locum for Dr Innis) at the Manse for key. An austere house along road and near coast. Discover key has been returned to (Mr) Hourie. Gale still blowing.  We set out in a howling strong wind and cycle round the island via Kierfea Hill road and Saviskaill. At Wasbister we meet Mr Hourie and collect keys. We have a chat concerning prehistoric remains. Also accounts of buried treasure dug up by rabbits. We continue round of the island. On reaching S side of the island, wind dies down to some extent. We visit Blackhammer cairn and take photos. Arrive at Wychwood at 8.15pm. Supper.

Later we call on George Sutherland. He is a bachelor, lives in his own house. (Built 1882 for blacksmith). Interesting box bed under stairs. George is 56. Wireless operator in Merchant Services (trained at Marconi House, Strand). Travelled all over the world, visited all countries except Russia & New Zealand. His wish is to be coxswain of a lifeboat for Rousay. The islanders have petitioned for one. Spoke about wreck of Icelandic Trawler (Eyrfirdinger) on the Red Holm, Sound of Faray in Feb 1952. 7 lives lost. Stromness lifeboat called out. We study Admiralty chart of the Orkneys.

Elenora with George Sutherland at Stromness

Tuesday July 1st 1952

Heavy sea mist at 8.30am. Warmer. At 10am we sail on the “Fulmar” for Kirkwall (specially chartered for the visit). Strong current in Eynhallow and Gairsay Sounds. Choppy seas and light spray. Arrive at Kirkwall 11.30. George joins us on a bus to Stromness. Lunch with G at Stromness Hotel. We explore the town and intermingle with G visiting old friends, he points out places of interest. An excellent companion & guide. Return to Kirkwall on the 4pm bus and after some shopping, we sail for Rousay, 6pm. Ernest takes the helm most of the voyage and we return via the east side of Gairsay and Wyre. Sea dead calm. The day was very hot and almost cloudless. A very fine day!

Wednesday July 2nd

Late morning rising. After a light lunch we cycle to Hullion and take ferry to mainland (Evie). We meet Mr Tom Sinclair, the ferryman, painting one of his boats. He has never left the islands nor ever seen a train. Age 45-50.

We take bicycles over with us. Choppy crossing of Eynhallow Sound. At Evie we climb steadily to 550ft. to the Breeran where we have a magnificent view of Rousay, the Sounds and outer isles. Our descent to the Burn of Hillside is through wild peat-bog moorland. Here the peat for the island is cut, stacked, and laid in long trenches. The area covered must run into several thousands of acres.

We continue via the rather depressing district of Dounby consisting of the old village plus shacks, bungalows and sheds (Nissen Huts). This was an R.A.F. depot during the war. We cross the main roads of the island (A986 & A967) and skirt the water’s edge of the loch of Skaill until we reach our destination (11 miles) Bay of Skaill and the prehistoric Skara Brae. It was by this part of the coast that “The Hampshire” was lost with Lord Kitchener in 1915.

With guide (M.O.W.) we inspect the Skara Brae. Start return journey 7.15pm. Stop at Dounby. Beer & snacks. Telephone ferry & Mrs Cormack. Tom Sinclair waiting for us at Evie – busy making nets. Home at about 9.50pm. Supper at Mrs Cormack’s at about 9.50pm.

Fine warm day right up to midnight moon.

Boats above high water mark at Hullion Pier. The houses are Yorville, and between
the gables and in the distance is Banks, home of Tom Sinclair and his family.

Thursday July 3rd

A fine sunny day. (W. Wind). After yesterday’s excursion, we relax and almost do nothing. Elenora brings forward the oil colours once again. Ernest takes photos. We take an evening stroll along the top roads. Wind.

Friday July 4th

Rain and gale during the early hours. The day does not promise well but we are mistaken! Morning uncertain. We have chartered the M.V. Fulmar (Capt. Craigie) for voyage to Kirkwall. We leave Rousay Pier at 2pm and have Dr Carlisle as passenger aboard. His locum duties finished upon the return of Dr Innes, he is returning home by air from Kirkwall. Floodtide across Eynhallow sound. Sea choppy but it smooths out as we enter Stronsay Firth and enter Kirkwall. We enter Kirkwall in brilliant sunshine, quite hot. Crowds on quay and much coming and going around the St Ninian. A fine modern motor vessel. Put into service 1951. Meet Mr Wickham again who has just returned from a tour of the islands. The quayside crowded mainly because troops are also embarking………..

Elenora and I have tea in lounge of the Kirkwall Hotel, upstairs, where we have a fine view of the departure of the St. Ninian through the narrows. I take the helm on the return voyage to Rousay. Leave Kirkwall about 6.15pm. (High Water at K. 8.45pm ½ hour earlier at Rousay Pier). Today has been the Picnic on the Island. Our arrival home coincides with the arrival of other small boats from Wyre for the evening dance at “The Schools”.

This evening proves to be one of the finest we have experienced so far. No wind, clear blue sky, sea like gloss. We stroll and take time photograph at midnight. Wyre can be seen clearly in a kind of light dusk.

Saturday July 5th

E. up at 4.15!! A grand “oil-smooth” morning. Perfect. We rest after breakfast outside on “lawn” overlooking Wyre Sound.

This P.M we sail on M.V Fulmar and are joined by Marwick on a visit to Eynhallow Isle. The Wyre Sound is quite smooth but upon approaching Eynhallow the sea is much rougher with the S wind. It is very hot. We search for a suitable anchorage between Sheep Skerry and Grory but owing to the comparatively heavy waves pounding the vessel, we abandon the idea of landing by the dingy. Sail across the Sound to Aikerness on the Mainland and find suitable anchorage. Land by dingy on rocky shore and seaweed. Climb to the Aikerness Broch (under M.O.W. supervision and preservation). Joined by Mr Marwick; we take pictures and have tea. Sail for Rousay Pier and land Mr Marwick. We go across to Wyre and land at Hallbrech Point by dingy. James accompanies us to Cobbie Roo Castle (M.O.W.). Return to Rousay. Tea.

After tea, we stroll down to pier and later (after some indecision) cycle to the top of Kierfea Hill Road and watch sunset (10.30). Cold S wind on our return and upon arrival at Wychwood find the two Cormacks busy collecting poultry and hoeing up potatoes (1/2 acre) with mechanical hoe (two blades). Full moon. Fine. Bed at midnight or later.

Sunday July 6th

Heat wave upon us? Brilliant sun. Hot with S wind. Sun at midday (1pm) 82° overhead. We cycle to Mid Howe Broch. Take pictures (interior).

After lunch Elenora continues painting from a point on main road above Wychwood. Mr Cormack & I go to the local smithy workshop but only after the good folk “have returned from Kirk”. Meet Mrs Cormack’s brother (Logie Bros) who owns woodworking business next door to smithy. At Smithy I am shown the equipment including a fly-wheel drill and the 3ft. long tool-steel bit used for boring the well (3 1/16” diam).

Mr Logie shows me over the carpenters shop. Inspect Sagar saw bench belt driven by Morris engine. (Note: – The Iron Horse made by British Anzani Engineering Co Ltd, Hampton Hill Middlesex).

Later tea on “lawn” facing sea. Very hot. Ears Burnt. Cool evening. We cycle to collect wild orchids indigenous to the Orkney Isles.

Elenora, exploring the interior of Midhowe Broch

Monday July 7th

The “Earl Sigurd” off Wyre at 8am. I meet vessel at Rousay Pier to put bicycle on board. A quiet day. Very fine. A.M. we cycle to Hullion P/O and chat with Mr Gibson on local historical matters. After lunch we decide to paint and draw. Overcast. Heavy cloud and then fog. We receive invitation to take tea with Mrs Grant at Trumland House.

Evening we call on J.C and his mother near pier. House built 1877. Experiments with spinning wheel. German war charts. Photographs. General Sir …. Burroughs (Borris?) Captain Pett of the “E Sigurd” and the oil painting! An entertaining evening.

Tuesday July 8th

Fine, warm but foggy. Later a.m. we cycle to Scockness. The disintegrating wreck (Elenora visits farm). The wreck, a hulk 50’ long lies on the beach, engine in position but portion of shaft removed. It is located in the Bay of Ham.

We visit Trumland House, meet Mrs Grant and introduced to Lady Hamilton. Stanley Cursiter’s paintings of Orkney in dining room.

Exercises in printing Xmas cards for Mr Cormack this evening.

Wednesday July 9th

Fine morning. We climb to Loch of Knitchin with J.C.’s mother where we receive instruction in the cutting of peat. Take pictures. We then climb to the Tumulus 700’+. Here we have a fine view of the isles with the aid of binoculars. Did we see the Fair Isle or was it cloud?

To Hullion and Westness.

Thursday July 10th

A lazy morning. Flotsam on seashore. Elenora to Scockness.

At 2.15p.m. we leave Rousay Pier on M.V Fulmar for Gairsay Isle. We were to have gone to Eynhallow, but the state of the tide prevented this. We set course due E. for Egilsay and then S past Wyre. Overcast. Storm clouds to the W. We enter Stronsay Firth at mouth of Gairsay Sound with tide running at 5 knots against us. Smooth crossing with but few “white horses”. We enter narrow sound ‘tween Gairsay and Sweyn Holm keeping close in-shore on starboard where there is a deeper channel. Pass Russness Bay and the points called Hen of Gairsay and Ness of Gairsay. Here we encounter heavier seas on our port in Wide Firth. Heavier weather. James takes boat into Millburn Bay to investigate possible landing, but weather is still deteriorating so we abandon project.

George takes helm. On leaving bay we meet rough weather. We retire to wheelhouse and take tea (James prefers beer). Plenty of spray. Pass Seal Skerry to the S and on Port. Turn N with Boray Ness on Star’d. N by W for Eynhallow Sound. Rough. Rain. The passage past The Taing of Wyre opposite Aikerness on Mainland is very tricky. Here are hidden skerries which appear at low tide only. Bearings are taken off Rousay and Mainland hills. Although sea is very “choppy”, the sandy and rock bottom is clearly visible. It is advisable to steer over sandy areas. A trawler ran on to the skerries recently and was eventually pulled off by the S.S Earl Sigurd.

We keep to the Wyre shore. Even our own sound was rough. Mainland blotted out by mist (3 knots). Rousay Pier at 4.30pm. Rain. We enjoyed every minute of it.

Heavy storm this evening.

Elenora and Ernest visited Gairsay during a later visit to Orkney. The island was the
winter home of the Norse chieftain Sweyn Asleifsson, one of the last great Vikings.
Langskaill, in Ernest’s photo above, was built on the site of Sweyn’s estate in the
17th century by a wealthy merchant, Sir William Craigie, who lived there with his
wife Margaret Honyman, daughter of the Bishop of Orkney.

Friday July 11th

Westerly wind. Rain then bright sunshine. To Hullion and P.O. Ramble along seashore.

P.M fine. To Scockness. Elenora paints old wreck. Later we visit Scockness farm.

Rain and fine periods. Evening stormy.

Saturday July 12th

Heavy clouds. W wind. Willie Marwick calls at 8.20am. To ferry. A rough passage to Evie……. Bus to Kirkwall. Shopping. Board St Magnus at noon bound for Lerwick.

(Elenora and Ernest then spent the night at Lerwick on the St Magnus, and the following day at Lerwick, returning to Kirkwall on morning of 14th July.)

Monday July 14th

Breakfast on board at Kirkwall. Shopping. To Finstown by bus. Thence Mr Pottinger’s car to Evie. He & I leave Elenora at the ferry and say goodbye to Tom Sinclair.

I return to Pomona Inn at Finstown and have lunch. Meet the local tailor. Bus to Kirkwall. Tired, so I go aboard and sleep in bunk that afternoon. Tea. We sail at 5.30pm.

Notes from Elenora & Ernest’s granddaughter:

Elenora remained on holiday on Rousay after Ernest returned home.

In a letter to his cousin (who lived in Ohio, USA) dated
September 23rd 1952, Ernest wrote:

“Having been working hard and being of the opinion that a real holiday was vitally necessary to our health and welfare, living as we do in a country that is held together almost by what can only be called a ‘hand to mouth’ existence in spite of the wealth of the world around us, we decided to take a long vacation and get away into more natural surroundings. We therefore travelled overnight by train to Aberdeen on June 18-19 and from there sailed north to the little city of Kirkwall the capital of the Orkney Islands. This is a small group of isles where the people claim Norse descent dating from the early Vikings.  We rented a small wooden bungalow for a month – Elenora subsequently stayed on for five weeks and returned home by air… whilst I came back alone by sea to Edinburgh…

To us it was the grandest holidays we have had for many years. We painted in black and white and in oils some of the most interesting and grand scenery of these Northern Isles.

Most of the time, however, was spent upon the sea in small boats cruising around the various islands. The people are mostly crofters with three or four acres of land close to the sea. There are also comparatively large farms up to 3000 acres devoted to sheep.

A black sheep has been specially shorn for me on one of the islands, the wool spun, cleaned and will then be made into cloth at home here locally…A tailor is then going to make me an overcoat.

We got to know many of the inhabitants and were invited to their homes and entertained.”

[While Elenora was a capable artist, Ernest was a very keen amateur photographer –
as we see from his photos below. No text I’m afraid, just brief captions…..]

An aerial photo of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre – sent to Elenora
by The Orcadian newspaper in July 1963.
Langstane, or No 5, Frotoft – with the ‘lang stane’ visible far right.
John Mainland, photographed in 1964 – the Steel’s neighbour…
…friend, and farmer; he lived ‘next door’ at Cott.
Elenora treasured this postcard of the Otter Bank.
Originally built for Walter Grant, of Trumland House and Highland Park.
Elenora – writing to the Editor of The Times…
…and posing for Ernest beside the lang stane.

Frotoft in the grip of Winter, 1968: Brough, a view from the fields below Langstane,
looking down from the Knowe of Yarso, and the first postal delivery
at Langstane ‘after four days’ isolation’! 

A chilly view of the mainland from Langstane – and an interesting shot of the new
GPO telephone cable coming ashore. The ‘exchange’ was [and still is]
housed in a small building between Cott and Brough.

Ernest with granddaughters Caroline and Helen.
Caroline at the Geo of the Dyke-end on the west side of Eynhallow.
Tom Sinclair helping members of the family ashore from his boat at the start of their
visit to Eynhallow (picture by Elenora]. 
The duck pond at Trumland Farm.
The Wester Loch, basking in summer sunshine in 1969.
Always willing to lend a helping hand at the pier – James Craigie, known as  ‘Steebly’ to his friends.
Dr Helen Firth, waiting for the steamer at the pier.
Jeannie o’ Broch, with ‘a live present’!
Mansie Flaws o’ Wyre preparing for sea at Rousay pier.
Elenora and friend pose for a photo having reached the jetty at Tingwall.
Edda Mainland near the Sinians of Cutclaws in 1970.
Her brother John tending to an orphaned lamb below Cott.
Ernest way above Langstane, and Cott.
Spring ploughing below Langstane.
The view from above Cubbie Roo, looking across to Wyre.
Magnus the cat, alert as ever, high above Frotoft.

We end with Ernest and Elenora aboard the St Ola at the end of
another visit to Orkney in 1971.


Craigie Homecoming 2004

In the summer of 2004 a party of eight Canadian and American descendants of
James and Mary Craigie visited Rousay to explore the island and see the
remains of the houses where their great grandparents lived,
Mount Pleasant in Frotoft and Greysteen in Wasbister.

Their guide and informant was the late Robert Craigie Marwick, who prepared
the attached pamphlet, handing them each a copy as they arrived at the
Stromness ferry terminal.

One of the party, Liz Harmer, tells us of her thoughts and memories of that visit.

In July of 2004, a group of Rousay Craigie descendants visited Orkney to discover the homeland of their great grandparents James and Mary Craigie.  The group included 3 sets of siblings: Peter and Elizabeth White, Diane and Linda Haldeman, Jim, John and Mary Ann Craigie and Marilyn Penny their cousin, along with spouses and a friend.  We were not disappointed in what we found.

James and Mary (Craigie) Craigie (no relation) had both been born and raised on Rousay.  In 1867, James sailed on the ship ‘Iowa’ to New York with his friends, Robert and James Clark, who were from St Andrews, Mainland, Orkney.  In his diary of the trip he laments leaving his darling Mary behind.  The men settled in Goderich, Ontario, a port on the east side of Lake Huron.  We’re not sure why Goderich was their destination but it proved to be a good choice as the men prospered.  In the fall of 1870, James returned to Rousay to marry his Mary and to take her back with him to Goderich. The marriage took place on December 22nd 1870 at Mount Pleasant in Frotoft and in April of 1871, they sailed to New York on the ‘Europa’, accompanied by Mary’s younger brother John Ritchie Craigie. Mary’s elder sister Betty Craigie had previously emigrated to Goderich with her husband Alexander Craigie (no relation) in 1869.

James and Mary Craigie, photographed with the younger members of their family
in Canada in the early 1890s
[Picture courtesy of Liz Harmer – whose grandmother Alexina is seated front right]

James established himself in the fish and ice business and by 1874 was able to purchase a frame house with a barn for the ice.  He and Mary had 10 children, 6 of whom lived to be adults.  These were Mary, James, John, Jane, Alexina and Fred.  The cousins who visited Orkney were descendants of 3 of them, Mary (Marilyn), James (Diane, Linda, Jim, Maryanne, John) and Alexina (Peter, Elizabeth).  The family was close and maintained connections even when James and Jane moved to the USA and Mary to Toronto.  The gathering place was usually Goderich at John Craigie’s cottage on the bank of Lake Huron overlooking the harbour.  The cousins all had happy memories of gatherings there to watch the sunset, play bridge and have fun.

In 2004, at the time of the visit, our cousin John Craigie was living in Glasgow with his wife Sheena.  He had been in touch with Robert Marwick, the author of Rousay Roots, and had come up with the idea of visiting Orkney.  John organized the trip with Robert’s assistance and arranged for Robert to be our guide while there.  We were so fortunate to have Robert with us to share his incredible knowledge about Orkney and in particular Rousay’s history and families.

Robert greets the party of visitors on their
arrival at Stromness ferry terminal.

The cousins met in Glasgow and then made their way to Kirkwall where Robert and his wife, Betty, joined us. The first evening we met for a meal in the hotel and were joined by Tom King and his wife Hazel, and Neil Craigie and his wife Ella. Both Tom and Neil were cousins still living in Kirkwall: Tom, a descendent of Mary’s elder sister Margaret, and Neil a descendent of James’s younger sister Janet. Tom was able to join us for many of our subsequent activities.

The cousins pose for the camera
at Mount Pleasant.

The next day, we loaded into Jimmy’s van (our transport for the duration) and took the car ferry to visit Rousay.  After a brief stop at the archaeological remains, we went to the home of the archivist [Sheena Marwick, Braehead] to see the original parish record of the marriage of James and Mary and to meet some islanders.  We were entertained by a young fiddler [Laura Lockyer, now Harrington] and spent an all too short an hour visiting.  We felt very welcomed! We next went to visit Mary’s home, Mount Pleasant, in Frotoft, and then on to James’s home Greystane, in Wasbister. Both houses were in ruins but it only made the visits more poignant.  The view from Mount Pleasant was wonderful: sea, rolling hills, distant islands and clouds skirting the sky.  The visit to Greystane included a stop at Deithe where Max Fletcher, (who had kindly offered to take pictures of our visit), had updated the original cottage and created a very comfortable home.  And all too soon we had to leave with some of us thinking about ways to return!  On the boat trip back, we talked about what a hard life it must have been and how fit one would have been when walking was the only way to get around! The contrast to James’ and Mary’s later life in the town of Goderich could not have been more pronounced.

Robert tells the visitors all about Greystane, they pose for another picture…..
and then take pictures of their own!

We spent the next 2 days seeing highlights of the archaeology and other sites of interest on the Mainland with Robert and sometimes, Betty, as our guides. We were overwhelmed with what we saw. The visit to Skara Brae was a highlight as was the Ring o’ Brodgar and Maeshowe.  The recreation of a typical farmhouse at the Corrigal Farm Museum helped us envision what life was like for our great grandparents.  We enjoyed fabulous meals and wonderful times together. When it was time to get the ferry to continue our trip down the west coast of Scotland, we all agreed that we had shared a wonderful experience.

Robert with the visitors at Midhowe – on the gantry above the chambered cairn
and in and around the Iron-Age broch.
A visit to Deithe…
…and a tune from Laura at Braehead.
Celebrating Canada Day in Inverness.
Robert and his wife Betty.

Robert provided an informative Craigie Homecoming pamphlet for his guests,
the contents of which are reproduced below.


Pict’s Hoose and Phonebox

A couple of diverse ‘memories’ from our old friend Bertie Gillespie.

The farm buildings of Faraclett to the right, and Pow middle left.

I have a story from the early 1950s. We were living in the cottage next tae Faraclett called Pow. Me aunty Maggie Anne was married tae John Gibson o Faraclett; he told me a story of a workman using a pinch bar doon near the North Sand beach above the high water mark near the Faraclett side o the Loch o Scockness.

Tae carry on the story he was levering a large bolder tae cart away when suddenly his pinch bar dropped out o his grip and seconds later he heard the clang as it hit the floor. We were later told it was a complete Picts Hoose, complete circular in shape approximately 12 feet across wae a domed roof about 25 feet deep. The only entrance was about a 150 feet away at the loch side at water level. The entrance was fairly small, about three foot square, so it would have been a crawl in job – mind they reckoned they were quite small.

[Known as the Taft o’ Faraclett, and mentioned by Hugh Marwick in his Antiquarian Notes On Rousay.]

That very phone box brings back a lot o happy memories as the shop at Hullion was a favourite meeting place for the island rockers wae their motor bikes – we thought we were rockers – Ha-ha! The favourite supper was a peedie tin o baked beans and a pack o crisps.


Sillicks and Cuevs

My name is Adele and I lived at Woo, Sourin, Rousay.

Tommy Inkster, Woo; Andrew Kirkness from Holm; Willie Flaws, Hammerfield,
Lily [Sinclair] Miller [teacher at the Wester School, 1948-60]; Adeline Inkster
[district nurse for Rousay]; and Mabel [Lily’s sister] Flaws.

Tommy Inkster ran the farm and Adeline Inkster was the district nurse. We would visit many people and as a child it seemed exciting that we would go to so many folks houses. I remember that I hated going over the Lean, still do, but to get to Willie and Mabel o Hammerfield’s house that was the quickest way.

Hammerfield was in Wasbister. There was an old smiddy and Jack o Yorsten’s cottage then up a long narrow road to Hammerfield. Behind Hammerfield it seemed a short walk to the cliffs.

It must have been winter this night we set off because it was pitch black. We went in Adeline’s red mini, up the Lean; once past it I would breathe a sigh of relief when the house of the Firth’s came into sight. On past Cougar and Wasbister school to our destination.

Getting out of the car I was hit with wind that pulled me back. Already my imagination was working overtime. It was the Finn folk come to take me away or drop me off the cliff. When I got inside however, Mabel dispelled such thoughts with her warm smile and huge hug. Willie was sitting in his chair by the fire and grinned at me when we went into the living room.

Bill, Mabel and Spotty-dog at Hammerfield

Drams, tea or coffee and pieces were served. I always got lemonade and lots of pieces. The conversation would begin and then I would be silent, usually sat at Willie’s feet next to the fire. I would look up into the rafters where all the silliks and cuevs were hanging up, drying on long strings. Their eyes would stare back at me and make me feel like they were alive. Willie might notice and then the best bit of the night, to me, began. He would tell stories of selkies and trows and magical Finn folk and how they would interact with humans.

The night would march on but inside Hammerfield, time was forgotten as Willie spun golden threads of history for me. I used to try to ignore Adeline’s soft speech saying it was time for bed. It took Willie to say there’s always more stories next time before I would move.

Then it was out into the cold darkness again and the wind that now seemed to be possessed. Up the Lean then down the brae to the turn off for Woo. The kitchen in Woo was a small one with a sink that had a space underneath it where the bucket would sit.

That space became the blackest pit for me and when I was told to wash my hands I obeyed with fear. You see, underneath the sink, inside the bucket lived the wicked witch and if I didn’t wash my hands quick enough she would drag me by the legs into her bucket and I would never be seen again.

[N.B. All spellings that are no English are phonetic]


Sourin Sea Rescues

Two ‘sea rescues’ – the first of which involves the dramatic rescue
of a young fisherman in 1911, and secondly the retrieval of
a sum of money in 1880.

The first account was mentioned to me by Anne Paterson of Aberdeenshire. She wrote as follows: “This is about an incident in Rousay around August 1911. My father, Alfred Alexander was in Rousay for holidays and his cousin (don’t know his name) and my father were down at the shore. They saw a man in difficulties out in a rowing boat. The man had taken a fit and fell overboard. My father and his cousin swam out and brought him to shore, which saved his life. The man was a son of Sir Victor Horsley who as far as I know was there on holiday too. My father and his cousin both got beautiful gold pocket watches with chains as a thank you from Sir Victor and they were told if ever they needed any help in their lifetime to contact him. None of them did of course. My father’s watch is still to the fore. It is also beautifully inscribed on the back.”

Anne’s father Alfred was the son of James Alexander [b1848], of Cairn, Wasbister,
Rousay, and  Ann Sinclair [b1849], Stennisgorn, Wasbister. They moved to
Hermisgarth, Sanday, where Alfred was born in 1893.

He attended Burness school there, and is pictured 3rd left, second back row.

[Photo courtesy of Anne Paterson]

The Orcadian newspaper of Saturday August 26th 1911, carried this report on the incident:

BOATING ACCIDENT AT ROUSAY. – A serious boating accident occurred off Sourin, Rousay, on Tuesday. From information to hand it appears that a son of Sir Victor Horsley was fishing from a small boat in this vicinity, when he fell into the sea. A lady, who was the only other occupant of the boat at the time, in the excitement of the moment, lost both oars, and was rendered powerless to offer assistance. Fortunately the accident was observed from the shore, and a rescue party set off. By this time, however, the young man had sunk, and it was only after some difficulty that he was picked up from the bottom. He was of course, now in a serious condition, and animation, our informant states, was only restored after great difficulty. It is gratifying to learn that he is now recovering.

Two months later The Orcadian revealed the name of Alfred’s cousin – Robert Sinclair of Sketquoy, Wasbister. Sir Victor was very generous in his appreciation of the two lads’ action in saving his son’s life…..

RECENT ACCIDENT AT ROUSAY. – Sir Victor Horsley has presented fine gold watches and alberts to the boys who recently saved his son from drowning. The names of the boys are, Alfred Alexander, Hermisgarth, Sanday, and Robert Sinclair, Sketquoy, Rousay. The inscription on the watches is “To (name of recipient) from Sir Victor and Lady Horsley, in grateful recollection of his prompt and kind action on the 22nd Aug., 1911.”

These photos show the watch that was presented to Rousay man Robert Sinclair, Sketquoy, for his part in saving the life of Sir Victor Horsley’s son. The timepiece has just come into the possession of James Fettiplace, who lives near Cambridge. While doing some research he came across this page on Rousay Remembered. We exchanged emails on the subject, and he has allowed me to reproduce his images.

James says the watch was just about the best you could get in 1911 – 18 carat gold, and made by one of the leading makers in London – and would have been very expensive at the time.

Subsequent research reveals the identity of the young man Alfred and Robert rescued.

He was Siward Myles Horsley, Sir Victor’s elder son.

Sir Victor Alexander Haden Horsley (1857 – 1916) was an accomplished scientist and professor. Married to Eldred Bramwell, they had two sons, Siward and Oswald, and one daughter, Pamela. He was knighted in 1902.

Horsley was the first neurosurgeon appointed to the National Hospital Queen Square, and was known worldwide as the ‘Father of Neurosurgery’. He was a brilliant experimentalist, elected as FRS at the age of 29 years for his work on cerebral localization and comparative anatomy. He pioneered resective neurosurgery for epilepsy, tumours, abscess, head injury, spinal and pituitary disease, and trigeminal neuralgia. He devised a stereotactic frame and a variety of new surgical techniques and technologies. He worked also on rabies, thyroid disease, vaccine, antisepsis, anaesthesia and military medicine. He was an iconoclast and social reformer, active in the Temperance Movement, a support of female suffrage, health care of the working class, vivisection and medical reform. He stood for Parliament and served as president of the British Medical Association, on the General Medical Council. He won the Gold Medal of the Royal Society, and was knighted in 1902. He worked to reform the medical services of the British Army and died on active duty, the only casualty of the First World War amongst the National Hospital senior staff.

At the time of their marriage the Horsleys lived at 80 Park Street, off Grosvenor Square, but later they removed to 25 Cavendish Square, a property previously owned by Dr CB Radcliffe and before him by Brown-Séquard. They had three children, Siward, Oswald and Pamela. Horsley was devoted to the family and was capable of working while family life went on around him, though his prose may have suffered somewhat by their distractions. His biographer, J B Lyons, recounts that, in his late teens, at a concert in the Albert Hall, Siward suddenly became unconscious and convulsed. Epilepsy was diagnosed and an operation was suggested. Only Sir Victor himself was regarded as appropriately competent and it was on him that the awful responsibility fell.

There was sufficient recovery after surgery for Siward to join the army and gain a commission in 1914. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion Artists Rifles attached to the Gordon Highlanders. On the 25th December 1920 he died of wounds received at Neuve Chapelle 1915. The Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10–13 March 1915) took place in the First World War. It was a British offensive in the Artois region of France  He is buried in Steep [All Saints] Churchyard in Hampshire.

For an account of the second ‘rescue’ we refer to an edition of
The Orkney Herald newspaper, dated May 25th 1880.

SINGULAR LOSS AND RECOVERY OF £83. – On Wednesday last, when the steamer Lizzie Burroughs was leaving the moorings at Sourin, Rousay, Capt. Reid had occasion to lean over the bulwarks, when an envelope containing £83 and some silver coin dropped out of his pocket into the sea. It is customary for the captain of this and other packets to convey large sums of money to town. In the present case the money had been handed to Capt. Reid by Mr. Thomas B. Reid, Clerk to the Rousay School Board, for the purpose of being lodged in one of the banks in town. On falling into the water the envelope floated for a few moments, but sank just as a boat approached. Capt. Reid sent the steamer to town in charge of the mate, and proceeded himself to the Clerk of the School Board, and informed him of the loss, when it was decided to proceed to Kirkwall by a boat and endeavour to secure the services of a diver. Mr Calder, one of the divers who has been engaged at the pier, at once proceeded to Rousay, and descended at the place where the money was lost, the depth of water being about four fathoms. He had only been down a minute or two when he discovered the envelope lying on the bottom. Short as the time was that the money had been in the water, a large shell-fish known as a “buckie” had taken up its abode on the top of the envelope, thus effectually anchoring it to the spot. It is fortunate that there is not any strength of tide at this place. Had the loss occurred where the current is swift the cash would probably never have been seen again.

Photo of a John Logie painting of the Lizzie Burroughs c1890
[Tommy Gibson Collection]

Although steam to the North Isles of Orkney started in 1865 with George Robertson’s Orcadia, certain islands were missed off its roster. Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre are islands situated of Orkney mainland’s North West coast. To remedy the situation Colonel Burroughs formed the Rousay, Evie and Rendall Steam Navigation Company in 1879, 14 years after the Orcadia started. Purpose built for the new company was the Lizzie Burroughs, a wooden steamer built in Leith. She was 61ft long by 15.4’ in the beam. She weighed 31 tons and her engines powered her at 15HP. She served the same route for thirteen years.

The route in 1882 was as follows:

Monday: Sourin (Rousay) – Egilsay – Trumland (Rousay) – Veira (Wyre) – Hullion
(Rousay) – Evie (Mainland Orkney) – Tingwall (Mainland Orkney) – Gairsay
– Rendall Point (Mainland Orkney) – Kirkwall.

Tuesday: Monday in Reverse.

Wednesday: Trumland – Hullion – Aikerness (Mainland Orkney) – Tingwall
– Gairsay – Kirkwall – then return in reverse order.

Thursday: Trumland – Egilsay – Veira – Kirkwall – then return in reverse order.

Saturday: Trumland – Hullion – Aikerness (Mainland Orkney) – Tingwall
– Rendall Point – Kirkwall – then return in reverse order.

There was a distinct lack of piers on this route and many of the Lizzie Burroughs calls were made by waiting offshore whilst small rowing boats or sailing boats came out to meet the little steamer. The ship spent six weeks out of service in 1883 for repairs, then shortly after resuming service was washed onto shore from her overnight anchorage in a heavy storm. She remained on Egilsay for a couple of weeks before being towed to, and beached at Trumland pier on Rousay. Money was raised and the Lizzie Burroughs was moved to Stanger’s yard at Stromness for repairs. After four months out of service she re-commenced trading. Her new timetable had been altered so there were only three return sailings to Kirkwall each week. She continued in this way until 1890 when she went to Aberdeen for a thorough overhaul.  In 1892 the Rousay, Evie and Rendall Steam Packet Company Ltd was dissolved and the Lizzie Burroughs was transferred to William Cooper of Kirkwall and renamed Aberdeen.


Wilson Family Memories

Margaret Wilson from Edinburgh has been kind enough to share a
few Rousay memories – together with a fine set of
photographs and their captions:

My granddad, Dave Wilson the draughtsman,
with my dad Darney at Midhowe, 1934.

“My granddad, David Wilson, was an Edinburgh draughtsman and was asked by Walter Grant [then owner of the island’s Trumland estate] to draw up the plans of Midhowe Broch during the excavations in 1932. Grant gifted my granddad two cottages to live in during the time he spent there – Sjo Brekka and Avils. He would take the whole family up for two-to-three months at a time. He planned to retire to Orkney but following his trip up to finalise his retirement plans in 1961, he sadly died of a heart attack coming home on the St Ola. My dad, Darney Wilson, was only six months old the first time he went and there began a lifelong love of Rousay and Orkney. He was there every year until he died in 2008. Both his and my mum’s ashes are scattered at Hullion Pier.”

Hullion’s horse-drawn shop van.
Visiting friends at Westness Cottage
In the post boat with Tom Sinclair, ‘Laidler’, Darney Wilson and my Nana, Betty Wilson.
Dave and Edith Gibson at Hullion with
Margaret and Darney Wilson, 1967
Dave and Edith Gibson, and children Julia and Norman at Hullion,
with Margaret Wilson Snr on the left, 1963
Tom and Bella Sinclair with Margaret Wilson at Banks, 1967
Tom Sinclair at Banks with Darney, Margaret and
wee Margaret Wilson
Peedie Margaret Wilson with Cissie and Hugh Gibson, 1968
Peedie Margaret Wilson with Cissie and Hugh Gibson, 1968
Jock Petrie at Tratland, with Darney and Margaret Wilson c1975

The Joiner Shop


Anita Thomson

The joiner shop at Ivybank in Wasbister, Rousay, started out as a school. It was built in the 1840’s or thereabouts under the auspices of the Rousay Free Church.
It remained a school until the School Board built a new one, across the road, which was opened in 1881 by General Burroughs.

Ivybank – photographed in the 1990s.

My great-grandfather, William had been out working in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s territories for a few years in the Iate 1840’s – early 1850’s, and had there made enough money so that when he returned he married and set up a Grocer shop in one of the houses at Cogar. (His wife was an Inkster from Cogar). In the 1861 Census we find at Cogar, William Craigie, general merchant, 40; Margaret, his wife, 27; and family William, 6; Elizabeth, 3; and John, 1.

After the school moved across the road William and family must have moved into the oId schoolhouse and set up shop in the old school. Whether he had tenancy of the house earlier I don’t know but there is a story in the family of the first shop there being in what we knew as the back bedroom, with the oil barrels etc. standing in the wide passage leading through to it. He was also reputed to have had his own sloop, which brought his groceries etc. straight from Leith and landed them in the Bay of Saviskaill. (It may have been that he only owned a share in this boat along with some other merchants).

On William’s death in 1900 his son James (born 1862) and James’ new wife Annabella Chalmers (from Stronsay) carried on the business. Apart from being a shopkeeper James was also a crofter, a fisherman, a teacher, filling vacancies in the Rousay schools as welI as in Wyre ,Egilsay and Westray. He was appointed CIerk to the School Board in 1886 and continued in this post until the Boards were abolished in 1918. He was Inspector of the Poor and Clerk to the Parish Council for over 40 years until his death in 1927. As a result he was known aII over the island as “The Clerk” or “Clerkie”, and is pictured to the left.

James and Annabella’s children.
The eldest is Annie Flaws, born on February 21st 1901; William Marwick [the author’s father], born on April 18th 1902;
and youngest is Margaret Forest [known as Rita], who was born on July 5th 1908.

Annie and William in a Wasbister School photograph c1910

Back row, from left: Maggie Jane Clouston, Shalter; Hugh Sinclair, Vacquoy; Ellen Mary Craigie, Ploverha; John Marwick, Quoys; Maggie Inkster, Furse;
James Clouston, Tou; Jean Inkster, Swartafiold; David Flaws, Hammerfield; ?.; teacher Mattie Wards.

Middle row: Mary Jane Pearson, Kirkgate; James Craigie, Turbitail; Bessie Muir, Breckan; Hugh Craigie, Deithe; Maggie Jessie Flaws, Hammerfield;
James Marwick, Grain; William Craigie, Ivybank; Robert Inkster, Furse; Annie Craigie, Ivybank; Arthur Flaws, Hammerfield.

Front row: John Clouston, Shalter; James Sinclair, Blackhammer; Maggie Jessie Muir, Breckan; Liz Moar, Saviskaill; Ethel Inkster, Furse;
Annabella Sinclair, Sketquoy; Tony Sinclair, West Side School; Isabella Sinclair, West Side School.


Excerpt from Minutes of Meeting of Parish Council, held in Avelsay, 16th September 1927.

“Before proceeding with the business of the meeting, the Chairman made feeling
reference to the loss the Parish Council and the whole community had sustained
through the death of Mr. James G. Craigie, clerk to the council and Inspector of
Poor, for the long period of 40 years.

The Council unanimously agreed to record in their minutes their regret at the
they, as a Council had sustained, by the death of Mr. James G. Craigie, the high
appreciation of his long and faithful services, and their sincere sympathy with the
bereaved widow and family.”

(signed) AIlan C. Gibson, Clerk pro.tem. to Parish CounciI.

Unfortunately in 1921 the shop went on fire and burnt down, destroying  all  its  contents. It was only through the expediency and hard work of their neighbours that the house itself was saved. All furniture etc. had been taken out of the parlour and bedrooms and laid on the field in front of the garden. I remember my grandmother saying that after the fire had been extinguished and everything had been brought in, only one cup had been broken.

William Craigie is seated second right in the front row of this photo of the Wasbister
football team taken in 1923.

Back row, left to right: James Craigie, Feolquoy; James Clouston, Tou; James Marwick, Grain.
Middle row: Hugh Sinclair, Sketquoy; George Craigie, Feolquoy; ?.
Front row: Bill Flaws, Hammerfield; Robert Inkster, Furse; Malcolm Hourie, Maybank; William Craigie, Ivybank; James Craigie, Deithe.

Annie Craigie is third right in the back row of this photo of Wester folk, taken in 1924.

Back row, from left: Annabella Clouston, Tou; Maggie Anne Craigie, Claybank; Ida Marwick, Grain; Ida Craigie, Turbitail;
Annie Craigie, Ivybank [teacher]; Liz Moar, Saviskaill; Lizzie Marwick, Whitemeadows.
Front row: Jim Craigie, Deithe; Annabella Sinclair, Sketquoy; Robert Sinclair, Vaquoy; Mary Anne Inkster, Cogar;
Hugh Sinclair, Sketquoy; Clara Clouston, Tou; James Craigie, Claybank

About that time my father William (Willie o’ the Shop) had just completed his apprenticeship as a joiner and cabinet maker. He had served his time with the Sinclairs of Vacquoy and then with Craigie and Inkster, Cabinet Makers in KirkwalI.

It was when he set up his Joiner-work business in Rousay that a new sheet iron roof was put on this building and it became his workshop. When I first remember, my grandmother had a little room in the front corner, which she called the ‘Office’. Perhaps it had been put there for a place for my grandfather to keep his boots and papers. It may have been situated where the old office had been but this had new wood lining. I can only remember hens meal being kept in it and the windows filled with red Geraniums, which Granny watered with cold tea. The only other thing of interest was an old, dirty cash box containing some black and burnt coins, memories of the fire. By the time I started school this partition was removed and the whole room was used as the workshop.

The Wasbister School is closest to the camera, with Ivybank just beyond and to the left.
On the hill above at the ruins of Ploverha’, The Garret, and Shalter.

The Workshop was joined on to the east end of the house and faced South. There was a door, with the upper half in glass, in the middle of the south facing wall and a large window on either side. Directly opposite on the North wall were two similar windows, through which, late on a summer’s evening the rays of the setting sun would shine and blind your eyes as you entered the front door. The Easterly walI had no windows but there was a solid door in the southernmost corner. As one entered the front door, on the left was a big double-sided wood-working bench, with wooden vices on either side of it and a dip in the middle, which always got filled up with odd pieces of wood, shavings and sawdust. When we were thought to be old and responsible enough, probably about six or seven, it was our job to clean up the bench, carefully gather out the nails and small tools such as spokeshaves or screwdrivers. When we got tall enough we had to hang them up in their places. Saws, chisels and planes we did not touch and they were usually well up out of the road anyway. Along the wall adjoining the house, at the back of bench, were the shelves and hangers for his tools. Apart from ordinary joinery tools, he had many special woodworking and cabinet making ones. At one end of the bench stood his big heavy tool chest. Sometimes as a special treat, when we had finished our tidying we were allowed to make animals out of small offcuts of wood. This consisted of hammering a nail in each corner for legs and a longer, thicker one on the other side for a neck and head. If we were able to find a round piece, such as a cutting off a fork handle, we were thrilled and always called it a horse. These animals always went ‘missing’. No doubt when the novelty of playing with them wore off the nails were pulled out by our father and re-used.

Quoys in the foreground and the school to the left, Cogar in the middle, Ivybank to its right, Langskaill upper right, and the Head of Faraclett beyond
Cogar and the Wasbister School to the left, Ivybank to the right, and the farm buildings of Saviskaill beyond the Wasbister Loch

Below the window to the right was his metalworking bench. It had a large metal vice about two thirds of the way along and a smaller one nearer the door. Underneath this bench were fitted drawers, which held his nails and bolts. All nails found on cleaning up days were sorted out and put in these drawers. It was often our job, when a new delivery of nails and screws arrived to put them in their appropriate drawers. These arrived in thick brown pokes and sometimes, if in Iarger quantities, in hessian sacks. There were usually several pounds of each size as my father sold quite a lot of nails to the farmers in the district. Screws were in much smaller quantities and were kept in jars on a shelf or in the brown cardboard boxes, with the yellow size label, that they arrived in. A shelf above held bottles of shellac, gum arabic and other varnishes and glues used in his furniture making and repairing. On the wall at the other side of the window were spanners, hacksaws etc. but many of the other tools often lay on the top of the bench along with pieces of sheet iron, and iron rods, while on the floor under the bench lay bigger pieces of metal. (He also had a smiddy with a forge, bellows and anvil in another building.)

In the far (Nor’east) corner was his turning lathe. We used to enjoy help him work the foot pedal when he was turning out table or chair legs. It was absolutely fascinating to watch a square-cut piece of wood turn out into a graceful and intricately turned leg. Along the wall from the lathe he stored his wood, although many of the longer pieces were put up on the rafters. In the opposite back corner was the shelves and table where his battery charger was situated. This was powered by windmills fixed on the chimney-tops. Not only did he charge the wet batteries for many of the wirelesses in the neighbourhood, he also had a supply of electricity for our own lighting. In extreme gales these windchargers would blow down and have to be re-placed so quite often lying in the workshop were half-made blades waiting for such a happening.

Willie o’ the Shop

Among other things about the room were saw-benches, crates of glass, sheets of ply wood, a table with a piece of marble for mixing putty on. No ready-made putty in those days (Iate 1940’s). It was mixed from whitening and linseed oil. Among alI these bits and pieces of his trade was a space for bicycle parts for he once had an agency for bicycles and did those repairs.

Although he was often away from home working, the shop would sometimes still be quite busy as lots of people came by wanting to buy nails or order pieces of wood. My mother often had to leave her washing or baking to weigh out nails or count out screws. They were usually put into small brown bags. These were marked down to the customer and every six months or so bills were made up and put out and eventually settled. Many small jobs he was called out to were very time consuming but were never charged for by the hour.

Annie and Willie Craigie with grandson Drew Thomson of Sanday,1963.
Annie Craigie at the Enchantress stove, c.1961

My thanks to Anita Thomson of Sanday for allowing the reproduction of her article,
which was first published in issue No. 77 of The Orkney View in 1998

The images of Willie o’ the Shop and the invoices are also Anita’s. The other black & whites
within the article are courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection


Hammerfield and Rousay

Reminiscences of Hammerfield and Rousay


Ron Spence

In the fifties my family spent much of our long summer holidays in Wasbister, Rousay. My mother, Rhoda, had been widowed before my first birthday so her family consisted of my older sister, Elaine, me, and my younger brother, Jimmy. My first memory of Rousay was when I was about five years old so that might have been the summer of 1951/52. At that time the mail-boat ran from the pier in Evie to an old slipway near Hullion in Frotoft. The vessel was a clinker-built boat powered by an engine mid-ships and it seemed to be rather temperamental. At that time little protection was available for passengers but an old tarpaulin was produced in times of really bad weather. Some time later a cabin appeared, but I still preferred to stay outside. The ferryman was young Tom o’ Banks (Sinclair I learned later) who was Mum’s first cousin (one of the many). He sported a grizzly looking black beard and wore a heavy blue jersey and he was a merry fellow.

The Inkster family of Westness Farm.
Back row (from left):-  Ann, Janet, Lily, Mimie, and Mary.
Middle row:- Hugh and Mary (the parents), Isabella, and Fred.
Front row:- David and Robert.

Perhaps I should give a little background to my family’s connections with Rousay. My maternal grandmother, Jemima (Mimie) Inkster, was born at Greenfield in Harroldswick, Unst, as were all of her seventeen siblings. My great-grandfather, Hugh Inkster, was a Rousay man from Ervadale in Sourin. In 1861 he was working at Saviskaill as a ploughman and in 1865 he married Isabella Kirkness of Quoyostray. Soon thereafter the couple moved to Unst. Unfortunately in 1882 Isabella died, so in 1883 Hugh returned to Rousay to marry again, to Mary Kirkness of Grain, Isabella’s first cousin. Mary was my great-grandmother. Sometime between 1894 and 1901 my great-grandfather moved the whole family back to Rousay where, I understand, he took over the tenancy of Westness Farm. In 1905 my grandmother’s older sister, Mary, married Thomas Sinclair of Banks in Frotoft and their children were; Thomas, Anne (Cissie), Mary Isabel (Mabel) and Lily. Thomas ran the mail-boat, which was later taken over by his son, also Thomas, who married Bella Flaws of Wyre. Cissie married Bill Moar of Saviskaill and they moved to Leslie in Aberdeenshire. Mabel married Bill Flaws of Hammerfield and Lily married Dave Miller of Hestival in Evie. Lily was the schoolteacher for Wasbister and Dave worked as a radio operator for a whaler out of South Georgia. My grandmother, Jemima (Mimie), married James Groundwater of Kirkwall. He and his brother, John, owned J. F. Groundwater the baker and grocer.

My grandfather (Da, as we called him) drove us to Evie, a journey which seemed to take forever, and escorted us to the boathouse to await the crossing. Inside there were some men seated around a small table, or maybe it was a barrel, playing some mysterious game of cards. It involved lots of counting and  shouting. I learned much later that it was cribbage. The game had to be completed so we waited patiently. Presently, Uncle Tom took us all down to the mail-boat moored at the jetty. It was a sunny day with a light wind but the sea in the Sound looked quite choppy. I was looking forward to the trip and it did turn out to be rather exciting; lots of bouncing around and spray so I don’t think Mum liked it much. I don’t know how long it took but it might have been forty minutes. The jetty on our arrival turned out to be a rather rudimentary affair with many loose stones, so some care was needed in disembarking. In fact the jetty was abandoned later to an alternative a couple of hundred metres to the east.

Rousay post boat at the Evie pier, c1932.
[Photo: Tommy Gibson collection]

My First Memories

Uncle Bill (Flaws) met us and helped to unload the mailbags and then we piled into his car. It may have been the Old Fordie as Auntie Mabel called it later; I didn’t know about cars then. We set off along the single track road through the Westside past Banks and Westness. The car seemed to wheeze its way along and there were a great many gear changes. We eventually passed through the Quandale Dyke and turned left at Mansie Flaws’ house, a green painted wooden shack not far from Deithe. The track was rough and steep and took us down the hill to the rear of the farm. This road has long since been abandoned, however it can still be seen on Ordnance Survey maps. Hammerfield is located high on the braes and looks south and east towards Wasbister Loch and Saviskaill Bay. The road ‘ower the Leeon’ snakes up the hill towards Sourin and Faraclett Head is visible in the far distance. It is a beautiful view but at the time I didn’t really appreciate it.


Auntie Mabel welcomed us at the door and ushered us through the lean-to dairy into the kitchen. It was a bit of a shock; a huge black range dominated the room, a Tilley lamp hung from the ceiling among a curtain of caithes (colefish). On the wall opposite the range was the box bed where Mabel and Bill slept. And it was dark, with only two small windows to lighten the room. I suppose that Hammerfield was like many other small Rousay farms; the kitchen with the box bed, ben to the peedie parlour (quite bright and airy though) with a fireplace and another box bed backing on to the kitchen’s, up a step to a corridor with a store room (possibly doubling as a bedroom) to the right and on to the bedroom where the old lady slept. I don’t recall ever having met her but my sister tells me that she was always dressed in a long black dress and occupied the creaking rocking chair in the corner by the range. I discovered later that she was Bill’s mother but she died the following year. But no toilet or bathroom! You had to outside, round the back to the privy.

No running water either; this had to be collected daily in bright galvanised buckets from the well in the field below the farm. I remember the water being crystal clear but Auntie Mabe occasionally had to skim debris, mostly bits of grass, from its surface. Waste from the privy was buried; it was NOT considered proper to throw it onto the midden. After the old lady’s death some improvements were made, but still no indoor plumbing. The box beds disappeared, giving an extra room, and running water was introduced using a black Alkathene pipe running from a spring on the hill above the farm to a tap next the byre door. The kye were much more important than the mere humans. At some time later the stone-built dairy was rebuilt in breeze-blocks with a roof of corrugated asbestos sheets, but the roof still leaked.

Mabel, Bill and Spotty dog
– July 1975.

I remember that Auntie Mabe used to produce the most wonderful butter in the peedie dairy and I was fascinated by the kirn which was essentially a barrel on a pivot. Later, I even got a shottie but it was hard work and I had to get the speed just right. But I couldn’t fathom when the butter was ready. More expert folk would do that. I used to watch her baking oatcakes and bere (an ancient form of barley) bannocks (called bread) on the black range. Many an oatcake would fall apart at the crucial moment but I have never developed a taste for bere bannocks.

The main fuel of the range was peats. These were neatly stacked to the west of the farmhouse buildings just beyond the lean-to garage where the old Fordie lived. I didn’t know at that young age that the peats were cut earlier in the year from peat-banks up on the hill and left to dry before being transported down and stacked for use later. One summer we all got to help with the peats. At that time I was staying at the Schoolhouse and one morning we all piled into the trailer hitched on to a Fergie with our picnic and set off up the hill via the road between Cogar and Ivybank. I don’t remember who did the driving but it may have been Roderick of Cogar or Uncle Dave. The road was not much more than a track worn through the moorland so progress was slow. There were many places where the way had been abandoned for a more circuitive route. It was a lovely day. We kids were, I think, more of a hindrance than a help but we were set to work to help load the trailer. The peats had been cut some weeks earlier and had been set up to dry in mini stooks so the air could circulate. They had dried well so we had to load them with some  care  as  they tended to be a little fragile. The grown ups did the stacking on the trailer. We weren’t trusted. Picnic time, drinks and then back to the Schoolhouse.

Bill Flaws building haystacks at Hammerfield, late 1950s.
Bill at Sunnybraes, above Hammerfield, in 1975.

The farm buildings were in an L shape partially enclosing the midden on two sides, with the byre attached to the house. The short part of the L was the stable or steading, below which was a garage and workshop. This was to be the home of Fergie, a little grey Massey Ferguson tractor which appeared sometime in the mid fifties, under some sort of Government scheme I think; these ‘Fergies’ were ubiquitous in Orkney during the fifties. I have no memory of such machinery at Hammerfield before this, but my sister remembers ‘the Quandale Pony’ which she says was used about the farm. But I do remember clearly Uncle Bill broadcasting oats by hand over the field below the farm. Threshing would have been hair-raising if I had known better at the time. The threshing machine was behind the stable and was powered from the Fergie using a pulley. It all seemed to be completely without guards but we were well warned to keep clear. It could never happen nowadays.

Ron says: “I don’t know exactly where but I like the inquisitive cows.
My brother and me with Mum and Auntie Mabe. Must be the very early fifties.”

Outings and the Picnic

We spent much of our summers in Wasbister roaming over the braes and generally enjoying life. We stayed either at Hammerfield or the Schoolhouse (or sometimes both); it all depended on how many kids were about. There were cousins and second cousins to cater for so sometimes we overflowed into Lower Hammerfield. At that time Uncle Bill used it as his brewery so the usual bottles of home-brew could be found stored in the cupboard. For a few nights one summer, Ian, my cousin, and my brother were sleeping there so discovered the ‘hoard’. Temptation was too much so they had to have a few samples. Few turned into several but it didn’t seem to affect them. I was upset because I missed all the fun as I was staying down at the Schoolhouse.

The caithes hanging from the ceiling were, in earlier times, almost a staple of island life. Uncle Bill caught them off the rocks using a wand and line. A wand is a length of sturdy bamboo, probably a dozen or so feet long to which was attached the fishing line and hooks, red and white flies as I recall. Once he took my brother and me down to the shore to fish; he did the fishing and we did the watching. I remember the walk from Hammerfield over Brings to a geo which I think must have been Quoy Geo. Some of the walk was over shingle and on the way we were accosted by many birds. Uncle Bill’s knowledge was revealed – he seemed to know them all; terns, oystercatchers, bonxies, arctic skuas and others. He also had sharp eyes and stopped us treading on their nests more than once. We reached the geo and UB (as Auntie Mabe frequently called him) got things prepared. He got us installed safely and then crossed to the far side of the geo for the fishing. Almost at once he caught a large caithe, much bigger than the ones back at Hammerfield. Soon he caught another but it looked different; it had a sort of golden sheen to it. Later I discovered that this was a lythe, a close relative of the caithe. I cannot remember how long we stayed and how many fish were caught but it was a very exciting outing and a long trek back to Hammerfield for tea.

The ‘Pool’ at Quandale; my brother Jimmy, William Miller (2nd cousin), UB, Verdie Moar (2nd cousin), Uncle Dave.
Quandale; Billy Moar (2nd cousin), Mum, Uncle Dave, William, Jimmy, Auntie Mabe.

As is common in this life we had to endure the dreaded visits to relations. Most of these visits have long been forgotten but a couple of must have impressed me. I remember visiting Fa’doon probably because of the story Mum told on the way back to  Wasbister. I remember the trip there and the location of the house; you took a hairpin left off the steep hill down into Sourin and the house was just a hundred metres or so from the road. I have no memory of the folk but I was told that they were some relation, probably Grieve. All I remember of the story was that a son of the house wanted to emigrate to Australia but had died tragically on the way through the Mediterranean. This turned out to be partly true and the full tale is told by Robert C. Marwick and is reproduced on Rousay Remembered under the ‘Anthology’ tag. The son’s name was David Craigie and he died in 1884 of sunstroke in the Red Sea. He would have been my Auntie Maggie’s father’s cousin. She was Maggie Jessie Inkster, Hugh Craigie of Deithe’s daughter. The only other memorable visit was to Greenfield in Brinian. I was very young then but I remember that it really was green; hedges and climbing plants and a large garden. There were two old ladies as I remember and one must have been Isabella Inkster, nee Craigie. Her husband was Frederick (Fred) who was my Grandma’s oldest brother but he had died in 1944. The other lady was, I think, Mary, her sister. We were invited in and I was amazed; the parlour seemed to be packed with polished brass shell cartridges of many sizes. They were on the mantelpiece, bookcase and sideboard. That kept me quiet for a long time.

Quandale; Auntie Mabe, Mum, hidden but most likely Auntie Lily, my sister Elaine and Uncle Dave Miller of the Schoolhouse
UB, with one of the many cairns he built on these picnics

A highlight of the holidays was the picnic and we visited many places; the Muckle Watter, Mid Howe, Scockness and Quandale among others whose names I probably never knew. Picnics at Quandale down on the rocky shore were probably my favourite. We would all descend on Hammerfield and the lucky ones got a ride in the back of Uncle Dave Miller’s short wheelbase Landrover to the shore. On the way we watched the bonxies harrying the other birds, very acrobatic. When we got to the rocks we scoured the place for driftwood so we could get a fire going and the kettle on. We youngsters got on the dookers for a splash about in the pools and even the sea. I couldn’t swim then but that didn’t matter. UB was a dab hand at building so he would build a cairn or two. I had a little 127 Kodak at the time so I took a few shots. I’m afraid that the negatives were mislaid so these pictures were scanned from the original contact prints.

Some of our Escapades

The nearest neighbour to Hammerfield was Tou. Roderick and Evelyn Marwick and their family lived there but soon moved to Cogar, opposite the Schoolhouse. We had a great time playing with their offspring; Sheena, Jimmy, and Alastair around the Schoolhouse and loch; rowing about using a borrowed rowing boat with our second cousins Ruthie, William and Judy Miller; their mum was Auntie Lily, the school teacher. On the north-east side of the loch there is a boathouse, with a dam and a weir across the Saviskaill burn maybe adding a metre to the original level of the loch. I was told that a former laird had wanted a trout loch so had ordered the work and had stocked it. I always wondered who this was but I can find no record of when the work was done. Before that, the loch must have been quite shallow and it was rumoured the Burrian had not always been an island. One year one of the boys of Saviskaill had dammed the Saviskaill Burn down at the beach so creating a mini-loch. He had somehow got an oil drum partially split in two so that it formed a hinge along one side. The two halves were opened up like a book and some boards were lashed across to form a seat. It became a small boat. Fantastic fun, but it didn’t last long; the sea can be very mean.

The stranded whale at Saviskail, circa 1953. UB is there, as well as Roderick Marwick of Cogar.
Harold Grieve is the boy on the left; Roderick Marwick with the rope; Bill o’ Furse (Grieve);
the elegant lady in skirt Mrs Dickie; and maybe Hugh o’ Saviskaill.
Another option is the young man on the right is Colin o’ Saviskaill.

One summer there was great excitement in the Schoolhouse; a beached ‘whale’ had been reported on the shore at Saviskaill. We had to go and have a look so we all ran down to the beach. When we got there the creature was still alive and a group of men, including UB and Roderick Marwick, was working trying to get it into the water. The animal was stranded on the sandy part of the shore so the men were trying to dig a trench along its side in an attempt to roll it into the water so it could be pulled into the sea. Despite their efforts this was unsuccessful and I think the ‘whale’ must have got injured during the work; an angry looking gash could be seen on the animal’s side. It looked to be in real distress and was making a good deal of noise through its blowhole. It was a real pity, but nothing could be done to help the poor thing. I seem to recall that it lay overnight and died the following day. I do not know how or if the carcase was removed. At the time I thought that it was a baby sperm whale just because of the shape of its rather bulbous head. I now realise that this was unlikely as it was only about four metres long. More probably it was a type of porpoise.

Other entertainments included the Pictures at the hall, maybe once or twice a month. The only film which I remember was called The Prisoner starring Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins, all dark and moody, and a bit nasty for a ten-year-old. These shows must have been quite a novelty because the hall was invariably full to capacity. Jimmy Shand and his band also paid a visit. I am afraid that I don’t remember the music but the show provided me with my first experience of a magician. I was fascinated, and still am. He was a dab hand at finding coins in all sorts of weird places.

As it is now Rousay was a place where there were few shops. As I recall there was one in Hullion and one next the school down the road from the hall in Sourin. There may have been one at the Pier; we rarely went there unless it was to meet the boat, the Earl Sigurd or Earl Thorfinn. And we didn’t seem to mind; Dave Gibson’s van came along from Hullion once a week so we could spend our pocket money then. All sorts of goodies were available and we were keen to spend the cash burning holes in our pockets. Grown-ups too had the opportunity to have a good natter.

Mum (Rhoda), Auntie Mabe
and UB at the Schoolhouse

The Craigies of Deithe

We were often visited by UB’s nephews, Neil and Francis Craigie of Deithe. Their father was James Craigie and mother was UB’s sister, Maggie Jessie. Neil went on the join the Northern Lighthouse Board as a lighthouse keeper while Francis, my sister tells me, joined the Kirk. Francis was a keen photographer and I was fascinated by his camera and pictures. His camera was a manual 2¼ square format and I seem to remember that it was a single lens reflex (SLR). If that was the case, it must have been a very early one. All his photographs which I saw were taken on Agfachrome slide film which he viewed though a hand held viewer. Agfachrome film was a very distinctive film with its intense reds. I was becoming quite keen on photography but all I could afford at that time was my little 127 format Kodak, complete with single lens, single shutter speed, single aperture and fixed focus! Monochrome films as well; colour was away beyond my means. However, he gave me a few pointers and showed me how to calculate shutter speeds and apertures. He demonstrated his ‘Color Calculator’, a manual device for estimating the light value and hence shutter speeds and apertures. Later I upgraded to a 35mm camera with a few bells and whistles so I went out and bought one. I still have it somewhere in the glory hole. Neil and Francis had a brother, Tommy who was adopted by his father’s sister, Barbara, so had the name Mainland. He was a regular visitor too. I remember him in Fergie’s garage making beautiful little models of WW2 aircraft out of pieces of scrap timber. He would carve out the pieces and fix them together with adhesive and shortened dressmaker’s pins and then paint them. One of these models, a spitfire, had pride of place on the Schoolhouse’s mantelpiece for a while.

The Wedding

In the summer of 1961 my second cousin Ruthie Miller got married to Jim Gibson of Lopness. The wedding service was held in the Kirk in Sourin and the wedding breakfast at the hall. In Rousay there was a distinct lack of limousines so it was decided that the bridal car would be the old Fordie (maybe because it was handy and black). But it needed some work. I helped to wash and polish it but, what about the rusty bits? UB came to the rescue and got out the boot polish and we blacked-up and polished the rust. It looked quite good – from a distance. It turned out a nice day and all went well. After the service the party moved to the hall where everyone had a great time. I think that Jim o’ Feolquoy and friends may have supplied the music: I remember him from dances at Wasbister School; being a demon accordion player; he really put everything in to it. He was a keen motor cyclist too (biker, they would say nowadays). I think that he had a Norton and it looked to me to be a huge and powerful beast. I had my first ever and last ever ride pillion ride, up the Leeon and back again. There were no safety helmets in those days.

Jimmy, Da, me, Mum, and Graham Rosie
before boarding the St Magnus – leaving
Orkney for a new home in Aberdeen.
Graham is a friend, son of Jean
Rosie, music teacher at KGS.

The Latter Days

In August of 1961 our family moved to Aberdeen so we had no more long holidays in Rousay, just the occasional short stay and day trip. Not long after we moved, the Millers of the Schoolhouse moved to Keig in Aberdeenshire where they took over the shop and Auntie Lily taught at a local school. But UB and Auntie Mabe stayed on at Hammerfield. Nothing much changed, although there was talk about a septic tank and an inside toilet. I got married in 1979 and in the summer of that year took Avril, my wife, to Hammerfield for a short holiday. We had a wander over the braes and down towards Quandale with Spotty, Bill’s faithful dog. He was very happy to come along with us and enjoyed collecting stones for us to throw for him. It was a beautiful day and a lovely walk.

At that time UB was showing signs of dementia and not long after was admitted to hospital in Kirkwall where in 1981 he died. I attended the funeral and was given the honour of being pallbearer no 8. I still have the Pallbearer card. No suitable vehicle was available so the coffin was transported from the ferry to the cemetery in the back of a van. Nowadays this would be seen to be disrespectful; but this definitely was not the case. It was all very sad.

Auntie Mabe stayed on at Hammerfield for a few years and we visited her again in 1982, the summer in which our son was born. In 1983 she moved to sheltered housing at Lambaness in Kirkwall, where we visited (and Mum stayed) several times before her death in 1995. I have visited Rousay for day trips several times since and taken a trip or two up to the farm after visiting Tou. Once I had a look in the garage at the end of the house and I saw a rusting old car. Maybe it was some other vehicle but I like to think it was the old Fordie. Sadly the house is no more but the steading has been converted to a dwelling house.

Auntie Mabe with our baby
son, Martin in 1982

© Rognvald Spence, January 2017

[My grateful thanks to Ron for sharing his fascinating reminiscences,
family photos and their captions]


Margaret Liddle

Memories of Margaret Liddle

Mrs Margaret Liddle, who died on 24th January 1996, was a long-serving member of St Magnus Cathedral, and a dedicated member of the Women’s Guild. As well as being good at painting, sewing and knitting, Margaret was also good at writing. She was encouraged by her grandson, Dave Gray, to write down her childhood reminiscences, and the Rev. Ron Ferguson quoted from some of them at her funeral service.

Margaret’s mother Agnes as a girl, on the right of the back row of this Corsie family photo
taken at Knarston, Rousay,  c1905. Her brothers and sisters are, standing, from the left:
William, Janet, Maggie Jean, John, and Agnes. In front are: Lizzie, mother Margaret
Skethaway with Cilla, Ann, Minnie, father John Corsie with Peter, and Tommy.
[Photo courtesy of Tommy Gibson]

Margaret Craigie, as she was, was born at the Post Office house, Hullion, in Rousay 83 years ago, the eldest of a family of four. Margaret’s mother was one of a family of 12 and lived at Knarston. Margaret had happy memories of family days at her grandmother’s house. Here is what she wrote – shortly before she passed away in 1996:

I do not know when exactly it happened but at some point in later life I stopped looking forward and began looking backward to days gone by. I do not know what the future holds for me but at the age of eighty three years I certainly have a lot to look back on. Memory is a strange thing and cannot be relied on to recall and fill in all the gaps in a long life. A rnarvellous book called “Rousay Roots” written by my cousin Robert Marwick has been a great source of inspiration and has spurred me on to put pen to paper before it is too late. I know most of the families in the book and it has been a great joy to trace the generations as they come up.

I was born at the Post Office House, Hullion in Rousay in the year 1912, two years before the outbreak of the first world war in 1914. During those early years the world was to me a very busy place indeed, for all the war messages and soldiers coming on leave had to pass through the post office. My grandfather was the postmaster and my Aunt Bella had to go away to be trained how to use the morse code. There were no telephones as such in those days and I can remember the tapping of that machine as it was dotting and dashing at all times, day or night. Sometimes the news was very sad and many tears were shed before that war was over. At that tender age I did not really know what was happening and was enjoying a normal happy childhood. At this stage I would like to mention my parents. My father, John Sinclair Craigie of Hullion married Agnes Corsie of Knarston. I was their first born and they named me Margaret Mary after both my grandmothers. My father came from a family of three – two sisters and himself. My mother came from a large family of twelve, five boys and seven girls. Their mother died at the early age of thirty seven, not long after the birth of the youngest of that large family. Being the second oldest my mother had to bring up all the younger members until she married and the next oldest took over. As I write this the youngest son George is still living in Canada and is well over ninety.

Big families make happy homes and Knarston was a happy place. I can recall many happy times spent there even when my very young days were behind me. We usually went there on Sundays and I can remember especially dinner time. If there is such a thing as organised pandemonium, that was it. The large table could not accommodate all the family as the younger members including myself had to eat at the girnel. The girnel was an important item of furniture in all farm kitchens. It was a huge wooden box almost filling one wall of the house. Its purpose was to hold the oatmeal and beremeal in separate compartments with hinged lids. The girnel was higher than the table so we had large quern stones to stand on. This did not detract from the lovely soup made about a big fat hen or a chunk of pork. The novelty of standing at the girnel was great. The quern stones were different sizes and had originally been used for milling.

Back now to the very early days and the continuing war years. My father was a joiner and no work being available in Rousay he went south to find a job. He went into construction work at Invergordon and later at South Queensferry. From time to time he came home on leave and always brought me lovely presents. Gifts of something to wear were my favourite and pleased my mother as well. I can remember getting a set of “fur and muff’. The fur had a little animal’s head at the one end and a tail at the other – this was worn round the neck and suspended from it by a cord was the muff worn to keep the hands warm. I must have looked like something out of “Little Women” by Louisa M Alcott.

Margaret in Rousay aged (we think)
about 8 which would make it 1920

Big families make happy homes and Knarston was a happy place. I can recall many happy times spent there even when my very young days were behind me. We usually went there on Sundays and I can remember especially dinner time. If there is such a thing as organised pandemonium, that was it. The large table could not accommodate all the family as the younger members including myself had to eat at the girnel. The girnel was an important item of furniture in all farm kitchens. It was a huge wooden box almost filling one wall of the house. Its purpose was to hold the oatmeal and beremeal in separate compartments with hinged lids. The girnel was higher than the table so we had large quern stones to stand on. This did not detract from the lovely soup made about a big fat hen or a chunk of pork. The novelty of standing at the girnel was great. The quern stones were different sizes and had originally been used for milling.

Back now to the very early days and the continuing war years. My father was a joiner and no work being available in Rousay he went south to find a job. He went into construction work at Invergordon and later at South Queensferry. From time to time he came home on leave and always brought me lovely presents. Gifts of something to wear were my favourite and pleased my mother as well. I can remember getting a set of “fur and muff’. The fur had a little animal’s head at the one end and a tail at the other – this was worn round the neck and suspended from it by a cord was the muff worn to keep the hands warm. I must have looked like something out of “Little Women” by Louisa M Alcott.

About this time strange things began to happen at our house. My Craigie grandparents and my Aunty Bella and her husband lived in one part of the house and my father and mother and myself lived in another part called the “back house” with its own door into the garden but all under the same roof. By a strange coincidence completely unplanned I am sure, both my mother and my Aunty Bella were expecting babies about the same time.  At that time the word pregnant had not reached everyday use as it has today. In Rousay the term used for a woman in that condition was “in the family way”. I, of course, was quite unaware of what was going on. As there was no resident doctor on the island at that time and difficulties could arise getting one across from Evie, they both made arrangements to go to Kirkwall to have their babies. To Kirkwall yes, but not to the Balfour Hospital or any hospital at all for at that time there were no maternity facilities as now. It was only then that my Granny whispered in my ear that I might be getting either a little brother or sister. My mother went to stay with my Uncle John and his  wife  at  Orquill where he was a farm servant and Aunty Bella stayed with friends at Sulisquoy. Now another coincidence – they both had their babies on the same day,  the 9th of February – at which time I was only three years and eight months old. They had a great welcome home – Anna Evelyn Craigie and Mary Isabella Kirkness Yorston. My sister lives in Stromness now and Mary is in Australia. It is not difficult to guess the competition that took place between the two mothers. At that time I was only aware of the fact that I was being overlooked, in fact almost ignored.

Details of the real competition and also the funny side of it have been passed on to me as I grew up. One of these incidents I would like to relate and which I do vaguely remember myself. Visits from the tinker community were frequent and always added a little excitement in an otherwise quiet day. The day in question was brightened by a visit from Jessie Ellen Newlands and her baby daughter Tibby to the post office house. There she was with her pack on her back and the bairn at the front, skilfully wrapped in a large tartan shawl where Tibby snuggled cosily against her mother’s breast. Tibby however was not being breast fed, as a small lemonade bottle with a teat on the end of it was in evidence. Both the Rousay mothers were there with their offspring. When asked when Tibby was born her mother answered “sometime in February, I’m no sure o the date”. Mary and Anna were born on the ninth of that month too, so you can guess the look on both mother’s faces when Jessie Ellen opened her shawl and let them see her bonny big baby. Tibby was very much bigger than the resident babies. Auntie asked what she was feeding her on and the answer was “nestles milk missus, thinned doon wi water”. There was much talk about this after the tinky wife had gone for it plainly states on the condensed milk tin – not suitable for babies. Tibby however thrived on it and grew up to be a woman of ample proportions. lf I remember rightly she did not live to an old age. There are no tinker families in Orkney now, not as a separate community anyway. They have married and mixed with the Orkney folk and life goes on as it should with no class distinction.

Margaret with her younger sister Anna
in Rousay in (we think) 1924

Old traditions die hard and it’s not easy to forget the thrill of seeing small reekie tents sprouting up along the burn and the lovely smell of stolen peats wafting in the air. Also the clanging of the real old tinker men (tinsmiths) as they hammered their varied shapes and sizes of pails and other utensils. Every home had a jeck and several tinnies. The tinny was the forerunner of the mug and a jeck was about a two pint size with a handle at one side.

I can remember the screechy slates and the smell of chalk – and the names of the other pupils at the school. It was a pleasant walk to school – about a mile I would say. On the road or path between the school and the public road, there was a big flat rock, level with the ground, that carries a somewhat unhappy memory for me. A boy called Billo o’ Corse began school at the same time as I did, and we used to get out of school earlier than the rest to go home. I used to get on to the flat rock and dance about and swing my school bag. One day Billo tried to push me off this stone and we had a bit of a fight. In the end I hit him across the face with my school bag – and bled his nose. I was terrified then when I saw what I had done. He was howling and threatened me by saying his “faither” would be ower at the Post Office that night to get this sorted. I took a long time getting home that night for I was really scared stiff. However, I came to Breck which is a house not far from home, here was my mother coming to look for me. In tears, I told her what had happened, making out of course that I was not to blame, so I expect she wiped my tears away and comforted me. Billo’s “faither” never appeared, so that was then end of that. The lovely flat stone was thereafter avoided, and school life continued until we moved across the sea.

I cannot remember any mention being made, previous to our moving. Of course, everything in those days was very hush-hush, and nothing was said in front of the children. I do remember being terrified of the boat as I had never been on one before. It was a big open boat, used for crossing with the mails and other goods…..We were met at Evie pier by Marwick of Furson’s horse coach. To me this was a very grand affair, and a welcome sight after the sea crossing. My father and mother and Anna and myself got cosily seated among the helter-skelter of rugs and blankets and baskets of food, and off we set on the unfamiliar path to somewhere…..

Margaret in her early 20’s
so probably about 1933 or 1934
Margaret on her wedding day in 1935. Husband William Tait Liddle was the son of Orphir based builder and contractor William Tait Liddle (Snr) who built (amongst other things) Kitchener’s memorial at Marwick Head in Birsay
This is the Liddle family in 1942. William (Willie) Liddle and Margaret Liddle, daughter Jean, born in 1936, and sons John (Johnny), born in 1941, died 1988, and Bryan, born in 1942 and still to the fore living in Dorset.

Margaret’s memories of her Rousay upbringing and the photos
of her and her family are courtesy of her daughter Jean Gray,
Kirkwall. My thanks to her, and her son Dave for locating and
sharing their treasured material.